UNIFIL Force Commander Addresses people of south Lebanon, 08 July 2010
UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas addressed the people of south Lebanon in an open letter following recent skirmishes between UNIFIL troops and some local villagers.
Following is the text of the letter:
OPEN LETTER FROM UNIFIL FORCE COMMANDER TO THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH LEBANON
In the name of peace and the United Nations, which all of us are proud members of, let me enter into your lives and take some minutes from your valuable time in order to share with you my thoughts. I would like to express my feelings on what UNIFIL is doing in Southern Lebanon, how we do it and why.
As a peacekeeper, as a soldier, as a man of peace, as a person who deeply loves this people, I would like to address some words to you in a spirit of total sincerity from the most profound depths of my heart. It is in our hearts that we share the strong human bond that has developed between us peacekeepers and you the people of south Lebanon through all these years of wars and destruction that we have suffered together, and it is in our hearts that we feel the pain of anything that goes contrary to this relationship we so cherish. I want to speak directly to you, without intermediaries, so there are no misunderstandings, no manipulation, no misled interpretations, through this open letter reaching you through Lebanese media.
As you all know, some recent incidents have cast a shadow on the positive environment in which UNIFIL peacekeepers have been working, in close coordination with the Lebanese army, for your safety and security. We are fully aware of the problems military operations in civilian areas may cause to the people. Whereas we take all possible measures to mitigate inconveniences to the people, there may still be problems you may face. The way to deal with those problems is to discuss them directly with UNIFIL, as we have always done in order to find amicable solutions, not by obstructing the work of peacekeepers or by beating them. In that spirit, let me explain to you what UNIFIL is doing on the ground.
There are almost 12,000 soldiers and more than 1,000 civilians in UNIFIL. All of us give the best of our daily efforts to protect the lives and property of the population between the Litani river and the Blue Line. We are working alongside the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Lebanese Government. We are fully aware that there has been a protracted and multifaceted conflict; we are aware that you have suffered too often the devastating effects of war. Therefore we came here from our distant countries at the invitation of the Lebanese government to perform specific tasks requested by the government and authorized by the UN Security Council with the aim of restoring security and stability for the people of south Lebanon.
UNIFIL forces are deployed in southern Lebanon to accomplish the mandate of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) after the war in 2006.
All UNIFIL personnel operate under my command and they have received strict orders to undertake the assigned mandate with full respect for the culture and traditions of the population that is hosting us; full respect for private property; full respect for the privacy of daily life in the streets of the villages; full respect for the desire of the population not to be photographed. Our soldiers have received clear orders not to take pictures unless absolutely necessary for operational reasons; clear orders not to use tracked combat vehicles where there is possibility of damage to public or private infrastructure; clear orders to repair any damage so done and to talk to the local authorities and the communities to clear any misunderstanding that may arise from our actions. This is evident from the fact that the UNIFIL troops have shown utmost restraint when confronted by agitated civilians and always tried to explain to the people what they are doing and to diffuse tensions with the help of the Lebanese army.
Overall I expect the peacekeepers to act in a fully professional, objective and transparent manner and give their best in ensuring security and protection for the people, and accomplishing the mission without interfering in the daily lives of the Lebanese citizens. Above all, my troops are required to work in close coordination with the Lebanese army and particularly when undertaking any sensitive tasks.
Those are my orders; those were also my orders when I was Sector East Commander in UNIFIL during December 2008 to April 2009. Let me tell you, I was really joyful during my first tenure in Lebanon; you won my heart to the point I promised to come back in any way, either as a tourist or, as is now the case, as UNIFIL Force Commander.
Today I am here again, with new responsibilities but with the same goal, which is to make possible that all men and women in UNIFIL stay alongside you; with our presence and what we represent in the world we contribute to your protection, providing stability to a part of Lebanon which has suffered a lot. As your guests, the welfare we enjoy in our days here is a product of the efforts of all of you: you, the people of south Lebanon, the soldiers in the Lebanese army, the leaders in the Lebanese government and in the municipalities where we operate, as well as the UNIFIL personnel. We can be proud to say that the last four years have been the calmest period southern Lebanon has seen in many years. It is not only me saying that, I have heard it from the Lebanese authorities too.
And you can see it in the new infrastructure that is being built, as well as the new small businesses growing all along this area.
UNIFIL works in close cooperation with the Lebanese army and we ensure that all our activities are fully coordinated. This coordination does not imply that every one of the 350 daily patrols that UNIFIL does can be physically accompanied by the Lebanese army. The Lebanese army has primary responsibility for security and law and order in the area. On its part, UNIFIL, with its significant capability, is patrolling the area of operations, monitoring the cessation of the hostilities, and assisting the Lebanese army. UNIFIL is also conducting coordinated patrols and has set up collocated checkpoints with the Lebanese army at key locations within its area of operations. Permanent checkpoints are established by the Lebanese army to stop and search passing vehicles.
Implementation of resolution 1701 and the operations of UNIFIL aim to ensure that stability prevails in this area and that the people of the south feel secure and protected to live their lives in peace and with a sense of future.
Sometimes these activities may cause some disturbances, but in any case there will never be any hidden agenda behind those actions. Our presence in Lebanon, far from our homes, has no other purpose than helping you to live in peace, contributing with all our means to your protection and the stability of the area. The peacekeepers always try to do their utmost to assist and protect you; at the same time UNIFIL's existence would have been hard without your strong support.
With this letter I would like to ask for your understanding and continued collaboration to help us undertake our difficult mission. UNIFIL contingents have periodic rotations, lasting from 4 to 12 months, so it is always possible that some mistakes be made, but always with the best intention of ensuring security and stability in the area.
I hope this letter would be useful for a better understanding between us of our common objective, so we all can work together for peace in south Lebanon.
With my best wishes,
Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas
UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander